ABOUT THE BOOK
George Orwell depicts a gray, totalitarian world in which privacy does not exist, news is manufactured according to the authorities' will, and those with unorthodox ideas are brainwashed or put to death. Offering only two crushing choices: to betray or be betrayed, 1984 remains one of the most powerful and influential masterworks of twentieth-century literature.
Eric Arthur Blair (1903 – 1950), better known by the pen name George Orwell, was an English author and journalist. Noted as a novelist, as a critic, and as a political and cultural commentator, Orwell is among the most widely admired English-language essayists of the 20th century. He is best known for two novels written and published towards the end of his life: Animal Farm and 1984.
Compiled by Wayne Pricer, Schoolcraft College Librarian
1. Wikipedia, George Orwell:
2. Wikipedia, 1984:
3. The George Orwell Web Source:
4. A Teacher’s Guide to 1984:
5. SparkNotes, 1984:
6. Time Magazine’s June 20, 1949 review of the novel 1984:
1. The world within which Winston lives is replete with contradictions. For example, a major tenet of the Party’s philosophy is that War is Peace. Similarly, the Ministry of Love serves as, what we would consider, a department of war. What role do these contradictions serve on a grand scale? Discuss other contradictions inherent in the Party’s philosophy. What role does contradiction serve within the framework of Doublethink? How does Doublethink satisfy the needs of the Party?
2. In the afterword, Erich Fromm describes 1984 as “a warning.” Indeed, throughout the text, Orwell plants both subtle and overt warnings to the reader. What do you think are some of the larger issues at hand here?
3. Describe the role that O’Brien plays in Winston’s life. Why do you think that initially, Winston is drawn to O’Brien? Why does he implicitly trust him, despite the enormous dangers involved?
4. Discuss the significance and nature of Winston’s dreams. Deconstruct the dream wherein O’Brien claims that they “shall meet in a place where there is no darkness” and the dream in which Winston’s mother and sister disappear. What are the underpinnings of these dreams? What deeper meanings do they hold? Why do you think the author devotes as much time as he does to Winston’s dreams?
5. Discuss Winston as a heroic figure. What qualities does he possess that could define him as one?
6. Compare and contrast some of the other characters in Winston’s world: Parsons, Syme, and O’Brien. How does Winston view each one? How do they differ from Winston? What opinion do you think each one has of Winston?
7. Early on in the novel, we learn of Winston’s belief in the proles as a liberating force. What accounts for Winston’s almost blind faith in the proles? What are some of the characteristics of the proles that, in Winston’s eyes, make them the ultimate means for overthrowing Big Brother?
8. From her first appearance as “the dark-haired girl,” through to the end of the novel, Julia is a key figure in 1984. Trace the path of Julia in relation to Winston’s life. In what ways does she influence him? Did you trust her, initially? Overall, do you feel she had a positive or negative impact upon him?
9. After his first formal meeting with O’Brien, Winston receives a book, ostensibly written by Emmanuel Goldberg. In reading passages from this book, Winston is further enlightened as to “how” the current society came into being. Focus on these passages, and in particular, on the theory of the High, Middle and Low classes. If true, what does this theory hold for the proles? Is Winston’s plan for the proles now altered? Why or why not?
10. During Winston’s interrogation, O’Brien explains that whereas preceding totalitarian regimes had failed, the Party was truly successful in its consolidation of power. How, according to O’Brien, does the Party as an oligarchy differ from Nazism or Russian Communism? How does he define the role of the martyr, both in terms of the Party and the other totalitarian systems?
11. Following his capture in Mr. Charrington’s spare room, Winston undergoes a process of “philosophical cleansing” and re-education against which he valiantly, but unsuccessfully fights. Discuss Winston’s “capitulation” at the hands of O’Brien. How is Winston brought to “love Big Brother?” In sacrificing Julia, how has Winston, in essence, signaled his own end?
12. In the final analysis, how accurate was Orwell in his vision of the future? In what ways does our contemporary society compare to his idea of society in 1984? Are there examples in which he was correct? What is most opposite? Do you see a potential for aspects of Orwell’s “vision” to come true?